Marlon’s hustle to survive

The unforgiving economy left by the pandemic leaves many undocumented people without a safety net.

  • Marlon wears a custom mask in a park in Los Angeles in April. An undocumented immigrant from an Indigenous K'ich'e community in Guatemala, he came to the U.S. in search of a better life. “Ten years ago, they killed one of my sisters in Guatemala. That is the hardest thing in my life. You have an option: You are going to stay there, and you know in two or three years maybe you don’t survive — or leave your family, and risk your life to cross the border. But then you confront another struggle.”

  • Marlon gives a haircut during a house call in Los Angeles’ Central Alameda neighborhood. “That job (cutting hair) is really good, but you can’t support your family. You can have a little bit here and send a little bit to your family in another country, but it’s not enough. That’s why I have two jobs.”

  • Marlon cuts a mechanic's hair during a house call at a car repair shop in the Lincoln Heights neighborhood of Los Angeles.

  • Marlon sells masks on a street corner, using a mannequin head to display them. “I feel healthy. I go to the street, God covers me,” he said. “I feel healthy physically, but mentally, not so much, because a lot of things changed in my life: paying my rent, sending my family money, worrying about bills, my son, everything. But I know we can win; we just have to fight. But it’s not easy working on the streets.”

  • Marlon sells masks on a nearly empty LA Metro train in April.

  • Marlon waits to exit an LA Metro train after selling masks to riders.

  • Marlon accepts payment during a house call from a longtime customer of the barbershop where he used to work.

  • Marlon lifts a rock in a canyon near the Los Feliz neighborhood where he runs 10 miles from downtown.

  • Marlon discusses the pandemic with two clients after making a house call to cut hair at an auto mechanic garage in Los Angeles.

  • Marlon returns to the small apartment he shares with his brother after selling masks on the street in downtown LA.

  • Marlon cuts hair as night falls in the South Los Angeles neighborhood of Central Alameda, where many Central American immigrants live. “Most barbers charge $20, but I’m only charging $10,’ he said.

  • Marlon on an early morning run en route to Bronson Canyon, where he often exercises. Marlon, who likes to spend time outdoors, ran his first marathon last year. “One of my points is to show (anti-immigrant people) that even though there’s a lot of bad things, I still give my best. I want to try to change my life. I didn’t go to school. Because my father passed away when I was 10 months old, I didn’t know my father. I saw my mom struggle to support us, and I promised myself that I have to live, to do something. I want to show other people we can do good things, even though you struggle with a lot here.”

  • Marlon is seen in the window of the small apartment he shares with his brother before sunrise one early morning in April.


Undocumented workers comprise 10% of California’s workforce. Though an expansion of COVID-19 relief cleared Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom’s budget, these vulnerable people are still working at risk of exposure while waiting in limbo for assistance. The pandemic adds a burden to everyone’s life, but it disproportionately impacts Latino communities. Elijah Hurwitz, a Los Angeles-based photographer, reveals how one young man on the margins is adapting to the weight of his heavier load.

Marlon (last name withheld to protect his identity) is an Indigenous K’ich’e man who fled the violence in Guatemala many years ago, traveling to the United States atop the dangerous freight train from Southern Mexico known as “La Bestia” (“The Beast”). Marlon came seeking a better life and the opportunity to support his family at home. A spiritual man who rises at 5 a.m. several times a week to train for marathons, Marlon was laid off from his job at a barbershop this spring soon after Los Angeles went into lockdown. With rent and bills to pay and his family in Guatemala counting on his remittances, he began making house calls to cut hair and selling masks on a busy street corner.

“I only want to work. I want to give my best.”

“I only want to work,” he says. “I want to give my best. I’m not stealing. I’m not doing things to hurt other people.”

Hurwitz’s photos offer an intimate look at someone without a safety net or the luxury of social distancing or working from home while trying to survive in a largely unforgiving economy. This is Marlon’s story, but it is also the story of too many undocumented men and women in America.

Elijah Hurwitz is an independent photographer based in Mount Washington, Los Angeles. He is pulled towards covering underreported stories on a range of issues that might help sharpen understanding. You can see his work at and on Instagram. Email High Country News at [email protected] or submit a letter to the editor.